THEY may have failed to increase their seats at the Oxford City Council elections, but the Green party claim their support is stronger than ever.

Craig Simmons, who was successfully elected to the St Mary’s ward in East Oxford after a two-year break from local politics, said the party picked up more votes than the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Simmons, one of five Green members sitting on the council, said the party’s share of the vote had increased from about 19 per cent in 2010 to 21.34 per cent on Thursday. He calculated the Liberal Democrats’ citywide share to be 17.09 per cent.

However it has not translated into seats. The Greens still have five seats while the Liberal Democrats hold 13.

Mr Simmons said: “Clearly it is disappointing we didn’t hold on to St Clement’s, that was one we were hoping to hold. But across the city our vote went up and we are now the second party in Oxford (on share of the vote) so in that sense our support slightly increased.

“If anything, it says something about our targeting strategy, maybe we should be targeting different areas than we did, more Liberal Democrat areas than we did.”

New Liberal Democrat group leader Jean Fooks said the party had noticed it had slipped into third place, but she was not overly concerned.

She said: “It depends who fought where and what efforts were put in.

“There were some very highly contested seats that the Greens hoped to win, and they have campaigned in some areas very actively and got more votes.

“I suspect we are still suffering a little bit from the general feeling that the Government is doing nasty things and not voting for us for that reason.”

Mr Simmons, a former leader of the Green group on the council, stood down in May 2010 to focus on his environmental consultancy business.

But he continued to be a familiar face, campaigning on green issues. He decided to return because his business was on a stronger footing and he was now able to alter his work to four days a week to focus on council duties.

He is expected to be ratified as the new deputy leader of the Green group at a meeting on Thursday.

Before the Labour administration took overall control of the council in 2010, the Green party had seven councillors and was able to sway decisions.

Now there are just five members from the party, and Labour has 29 of the 48 seats.The Liberal Democrats have 13 seats and there is one independent.

Mr Simmons said: “Any party in opposition has limited opportunity to change so it is mostly through persuasion, putting motions to council and working locally on community issues – that is the best way to have an influence in the current structures.”

Issues he was keen to pursue included opposing the demolition of Temple Cowley Pools, fighting against proposals to record all conversations in taxis and, crucially, pushing for a return to area committees.